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Governor’s Travel and Tourism Award winners announced
Post Date: Apr 27 2022

North Dakota Department of Commerce Tourism and Marketing Director Sara Otte Coleman and Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota (DMAND) president Julie Obrigewitsch presented seven Governor’s Travel and Tourism Awards today during the North Dakota Travel Industry Conference in Grand Forks.

The Governor’s Travel and Tourism Awards recognize the passion and dedication of North Dakotans who have contributed to the growth of travel and tourism in North Dakota.

“With tourism being one of North Dakota’s leading industries, we are pleased to recognize these outstanding leaders who work hard every day to showcase our state to travelers,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “Their dedication and creativity are key reasons why North Dakota attracts so many visitors each year. We are grateful for the commitment of the more than 2,700 businesses and 35,561 individuals in the travel and tourism sector who help differentiate our state, make trips to North Dakota memorable, and diversify our economy.”

2022 award winners:

Sakakawea Award for a Behind-the-Scenes Tourism Employee

Joel Walters
Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)

This award recognizes an individual who provides outstanding service behind the scenes in visitor-focused businesses.

Starting the summer after high school graduation in 2003, Walters began working the front lobby in the CVB, but quickly grew into a new position that included photography, video, and online marketing. Walters created a local food tour flyer, community history podcasts, and most recently a project that has demonstrated regional collaboration.

To increase visits in remote communities, Walters created the Coffee Cruise, a traveling trail of unique coffee shoppes that provides visitor experiences along the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway and beyond to Medora. The Coffee Cruise takes participants on a road trip through towns that are typically not visited when traveling on I-94 and provides an economic boost to local rural communities.

Telegraph Award for Marketing Technology

Greater Grand Forks CVB
FORKS: Five in Five Campaign

This award is given to a tourism entity with creative use of social media platforms, websites, applications, or data-driven consumer marketing that has resulted in increased awareness, image, and visitation.

This year’s winner is a video initiative that was launched by the Greater Grand Forks CVB in the fall of 2019. The premise of the campaign is to interview individuals or groups representing organizations, businesses and events in the community that are accomplishing “Simply Grand” acts that are attractive to potential visitors and residents. Five questions are asked in five minutes or less to generate attention and boost interest.

This initiative has allowed the CVB to use technology in an incredibly efficient way while delivering outstanding results. The CVB now fields inquiries from individuals who want to be a part of the video or with suggestions of what might make interesting interviews. This program was also used during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic via Zoom as a way of providing community updates.

Heritage Award for a Front-line Tourism Employee

Al Michels
Scenic Theater, Lisbon

This award recognizes an individual who provides outstanding customer service to visitors daily.

Al Michels has been the true face of not only Lisbon, but the state of North Dakota. Michels has a true passion to see once old treasures, restored and brought back to life. A prime example is the purchase and ownership of his community’s theater.

Michels couldn't stand by and watch the theaters sit empty, so he and his wife brought it to life again. Michels has been a part of several other town committees over the years to help improve his community and to bring tourism to Lisbon and North Dakota.

Flint Firestarter Award for a Tourism Development Project

Broadway Square
Downtown Fargo

This award recognizes a new offering that has opened in a downtown district that has the potential to attract visitors and enhance the Main Street experience by offering improved amenities and spark future development in the core of a community.

The Broadway Square is known as North Dakota's version of Rockefeller Center and people comment on the magic of the space and its surrounding businesses. The square has turned the corner of two city streets into one of the most photographable, visited spots.

Nearly 350,000 unique visitors have spent an average of 10 minutes reveling in all that it has to offer, in every season. This destination is a collaboration between the Fargo Park District, R.D. Offutt Company, and the Kilbourne Group. The square serves as a central, vibrant, inclusive, and engaging downtown community space with something for everyone which presents a collection of innovative and authentically representative programming that amplifies a unique Fargo flavor and is driven by an ingrained placemaking philosophy.

Since opening in 2021, the square featured 259 days of free programming and events. Events and activities included an ice rink with skate rentals, turf and waterspouts, live musical performances, movie screenings and events like the Red River Market or Downtown Street Fair.

Trailblazer Award for Tourism Innovation

North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance

This award acknowledges the spirit of perseverance and creativity in developing unique North Dakota offerings and is given to an attraction, event, person, group, company, or organization that has been innovative in improving visitor experiences in North Dakota.

In the spring of 2016, representatives from the five tribes of North Dakota came together to establish the North Dakota Native Tourism Alliance (NDNTA), a non-profit organization committed to protecting, promoting, preserving, and educating the world about the culture, history, and environment of their sovereign nations. The group promotes cultural experiences offered by each tribe, including visits to museums, buffalo ranches, casinos, powwows, music festivals and historic sites.

Some of the highlights of the organization’s activities over the past six years include: an increased awareness of North Dakota tribal tourism events and destinations; a cooperative business model to support tourism experiences, marketing, and tourism enterprise development at a regional level; a tourism product development work plan in collaboration with the advisory committee, and engagement with the North Dakota Tourism and Marketing Division to identify potential tour operator partners; cultural tours at MHA Nation, Spirit Lake Nation, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; and awarding the First Nations Development Institute grants in the amounts of $30,000 and $15,000.

The Wade Westin Award for Marketing

North Dakota Country Fest - Luke Schafer
New Salem

This award will be given to a stand-out marketing initiative. The honor may go to a marketing project, a specific campaign, a marketing team or cooperative project or a marketing guru who uses innovative ideas to attract more attention and thus visitors to North Dakota.

North Dakota Country Fest is a country music and camping festival in New Salem that has been attended by more than 10,000 individuals over its five-year span. In addition to the event, there is a 10 day and nine evening promotional tour known as Your Town Tour & Concert Event. The promotional tour includes a full live concert featuring national and regional artists that spans over 3,500 miles and 350 businesses across North Dakota every spring to promote the festival.

The North Dakota Country Fest is the fastest-growing country music and camping festival in the country with 2021 attendees arriving from 31 states and 211 cities.

Legend Award for Travel & Tourism Industry Leadership

Charley Johnson
Fargo-Moorhead CVB

This award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated legendary leadership in the tourism industry statewide and beyond. This individual's long-term leadership in the areas of destination development must be proven by a significant impact in visitor spending and/or creating differentiated communities.

Charlie Johnson, who displays passion and dedication for tourism and the state of North Dakota has shined a public spotlight on the importance of tourism to the economy within the community. He has also been a driver for important initiatives for the tourism world both locally and at the state level. Locally, Johnson has initiated the conversation about the need and benefits of a convention center. He often works with North Dakota Tourism at the state level to ensure one of our states most important economic driver, tourism, is not forgotten during any legislative session.

For more information on the 2022 Governor’s Travel and Tourism award winners go to https://belegendary.link/2022GovTravelAwardWinners.

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